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BBC's Nick Bryant in South Carolina
"Even before the polls shut Senator McCain conceded defeat"
 real 28k

The BBC's Nick Bryant reports
"A brutal and sometimes ugly campaign"
 real 28k

Sunday, 20 February, 2000, 06:35 GMT
Conservatives reject radical option

John McCain shakes hands
McCain tried to reach out to independents and Democrat voters

By Stephen Sackur in South Carolina  

George W Bush won a key victory over opponent John McCain in the South Carolina primary with overwhelming support from core Republican constituencies.

Mr McCain gambled that he could win over enough registered independents and Democrats to vote in the Republican primary to neutralise the obvious advantage that Mr Bush had among Republican voters.

But it did not work.

Looking at the figures, Mr McCain did not win overwhelmingly among non-Republicans, and Mr Bush did win overwhelmingly in his own party. It propelled Mr Bush to a substantial victory.

Strong conservative base

South Carolina is a deeply conservative state, and Christian conservatives form the bedrock of the party.

George W Bush and voter In the end Republicans felt more comfortable with George W Bush
They are one-third of the voters in the state, and Mr Bush was able to win two-thirds of their vote.

The McCain people are spinning this as the cause of their defeat, saying that they were brought down by the strength of the Christian conservative movement.

They are laying blame at the feet of Pat Robertson, who heads the Christian Coalition, and other conservative Christian leaders who came out in strong support of George W Bush.

Heading off a hijacking

But it is more complicated than that.

Mr McCain had openly courted independents and Democrats in the weeks leading up to the primary, and he was successful in drawing more Democrats to the polls than traditionally vote in a South Carolina Republican primary.

It was a necessary strategy. South Carolina was much more natural Bush territory than McCain territory, and Mr McCain had to do something to overcome his weakness with traditional Republican voters.

But those traditional Republican voters, and not just Christian conservatives, resented the idea that a McCain victory would in a sense be a victory for independents and Democrats.

They did not want their party nominating process hijacked by non-Republicans, and they saw a danger in that with John McCain.

Many of them went to the polls determined to give Mr Bush a true Republican victory.

Must wins for Mr McCain

The next two primaries in Arizona and in Michigan are now critical, especially for John McCain.

All three candidates All three candidates are heading for the next primaries in Michigan and Arizona
To stay credible as a potential Republican nominee, he has to win those two primaries.

He is expected to win in Arizona, his home state, but the challenge for him will be to beat Mr Bush in Michigan.

If he can win in Michigan, he will say that his insurgent campaign is back on track.

He will argue in Michigan that Mr Bush is taking the party to the right, and that Mr Bush is allying himself with a dangerously narrow brand of Christian conservatism.

But Mr McCain has to prove that he can reach out across the Republican spectrum and not rely on independent and Democratic voters because in the end, to win the Republican nomination, one has got to win Republican votes.

Mr Bush bounces back

South Carolina was the race that George W Bush could not have afforded to lose.

If he had lost here, many people would have questioned his ability to win the nomination because the state was such fertile ground for his conservative message.

It would have given the impression of a candidate who had lost his message and his support.

But he has stemmed the flow of momentum to John McCain.

The race turns national

Mr Bush is now in good shape to launch an effective campaign across the nation.

He has much more money than Mr McCain, and looking beyond Michigan and Arizona, Mr Bush has to be confident that he can do well in the key states of California and New York and a host of others in early March.

In the end, when it turns into much more of a national campaign, George W Bush is the candidate with the resources and the organisation on the ground.

Tonight, having won South Carolina, George Bush is going to be feeling much more confident about winning this nomination by the middle of March.

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See also:
20 Feb 00 |  Americas
Bush wins South Carolina
19 Feb 00 |  Americas
In quotes: South Carolina's dirty campaign
20 Feb 00 |  Americas
McCain fights on
04 Jan 00 |  Profiles
George W Bush: Out of his father's shadow
07 Jan 00 |  States
South Carolina
19 Feb 00 |  Americas
Big turnout in key US poll
08 Feb 00 |  Americas
Republican's negative campaign row

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